Early Science and Medicine 18 (4-5):405-434 (2013)

Francis Bacon’s elusive notion of experience can be better understood when we relate it to his views on matter, motion, appetite and intellect, and bring to the fore its broader philosophical implications. Bacon’s theory of knowledge is embedded in a programme of disciplinary redefinition, outlined in the Advancement of Learning and De augmentis scientiarum. Among all disciplines, prima philosophia plays a key foundational role, based on the idea of both a physical parallelism between the human intellect and nature and a theological parallelism between nature and God. Failure to assess Bacon’s distinctive position concerning the way in which the mind mirrors both the natural and the divine world, that is to say, the meaning of “reality,” has resulted in notoriously jejune discussions on Baconian empiricism, monotonously driven by epistemological concerns. As a result, the standard view on Bacon’s empiricism is as epistemologically comforting as it is imaginary, an “idol” in a genuinely Baconian sense. In this article, Bacon’s notion of experience will be discussed by examining those steps that he considered to be the crucial initial stages in the formation of human experience, stages described as a process of experiential literacy or, in emblematic terms, as a hunting expedition led by the mythological figure of Pan. I argue that a well-rounded analysis of Bacon’s experientia literata needs to take into account the complementary notion of the “spelling-book of nature”, that is, the original code of the primordial motions of matter. By getting acquainted with the first rudiments of experience through its spelling-book, one learns to read the book of nature and, most of all, to write new pages in it.
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DOI 10.1163/15733823-1845p0005
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Introduction.Amanda Rees - 2016 - British Journal for the History of Science 49 (3):383-386.

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